Batteries

Published on May 25th, 2015 | by James Ayre

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Tesla Storage Ambitions Date Back To 2007? Old Blog Post Removed From Tesla’s Website Years Ago Raises Interesting Questions

May 25th, 2015 by  

Exactly how far back do Tesla’s commercial energy storage ambitions date? An interesting question. Considering the seemingly common-sense “symbiosis” of electric vehicle production operations and commercial battery storage operations, one would probably think that the idea has been in the minds of Tesla’s executives for quite some time.

Interestingly, there appears to be something to this sort of speculation, as an old (now long deleted) blog post on Tesla’s website was recently uncovered by the folks over at Electrek that was titled “Introducing Tesla Energy Group.” It was apparently written by the company’s old CEO, Martin Eberhard, one of the company’s cofounders. Not much ambiguity to that, huh?

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The deleted blog post dates back to May 22, 2007, but the oldest archived version (that we know of) that’s currently accessible dates to 2009 (you can see it here) — so it’s not entirely clear when it was deleted, as it’s been gone for at least the past few years.

Electrek’s Fred Lambert provides more info and ideas:

In the post, Tesla’s former CEO goes in details about the motivation behind the new venture with context at the company in 2007.

Eberhard explains the goal of the new Tesla division: “Tesla Energy Group is a group within Tesla Motors, created to allow us to design and sell Energy Storage Systems (ESSes) to other companies.”

Eberhard explains that the idea originated from cell manufacturers referring Tesla when they were asked about energy storage systems. Especially interest from the manufacturer of the now defunct “TH!NK car.”

Bernard Tse, a member of Tesla board of directors at the time, resigned from the board to lead the Tesla Energy Group. Unfortunately, not everything was going well at Tesla in 2007–2008 and Eberhard was replaced as CEO, then left Tesla not long after. The company killed the project to focus their limited resources on the Roadster that had yet to start production. Tse also left Tesla not long after and founded Atieva to develop and sell battery packs to car manufacturers. Atieva has since changed its focus and is expected to announce an electric car soon.

Hmm. Interesting to see the backstory of the decision laid out like this. It seems that higher-ups at the company have been eyeing the commercial energy storage market for quite some time now. With the public response to Tesla’s recent battery pack unveiling, that interest seems to have been justified.

Image Credit: Tesla


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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • eveee

    This article highlights what I have said. The path to cheap battery packs lies in autos. First the auto company. Then the volume. Then the packs. Then the packs get applied to general storage like utility, residential, commercial.
    Atieva’s Tse was at Tesla, and wanted to do storage first. Bad move. Car had to come first. Now that he is at Atieva, he realized he needed a car to move volume and get the battery business going.
    Fisker and A123
    Think and Enerdel

    There are others. It took a successful car company to get batteries off the ground.

    • newnodm

      Will Ateiva sell a product at some point? Or will they just do new rounds of financing?

      • eveee

        Its a startup. And EVs no less. They have a horrible failure rate. I mean EV startups.

    • Jacob

      Not really. LiFePo4 seems to be a cheaper choice for grid storage than the cell chemistry that Tesla use in their Powerwall.

      And not all vehicles need the insane acceleration that the Model S provides. Tractors and bulldozers for example could use LiFePo4 chemistry to cut diesel use.

      The easiest option would have been to electrify the world’s tractors, cranes, bulldozers.

      • jeffhre

        LiFePo4’s problem, regarding vehicle use, is energy density. Without being more energy dense it is a tough decision to balance it’s greater resiliency against the packaging needs of an automobile. It therefore is difficult to ramp up it’s sales to automotive scales long term, making it harder to reach economies of scale initiated price reductions.

        • Jacob

          Energy density is an issue when it comes to cranes and tractors?

          There are cars made out of aluminium to cut weight but probably not a single tractor out there.

          Nobody cares how fast a tractor accelerates.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Aerodynamics is not an issue with cranes. ;o)

            Some large equipment adds extra weight for traction and anti-tipping purposes. We used to partially fill farm tractor tires with water to lower the center of gravity and attach extra weight to the rear towbar when using the front loader. I imagine cranes enjoy being heavy.

      • eveee

        Don’t get your drift. I am an old hand and big fan of LiFe and have looked at the costs.

        Take a look at a Balqon ESS. I have been touting their low costs for a while. They are about the lowest you can find a listed price for a system, not cells. They are Winston batteries, a decent offering.

        $8,225 for 16kwhr, low voltage, no DC-DC, but has a BMS and cabinet.

        Thats a little over 500 per kwhr.

        Contrast that with Tesla PowerWall.

        3500 for 10k, or 3000 for 7k. And it includes DC-DC. High voltage.

        Directly connect to typical inverters connected to string tied solar modules, so its a direct fit.

        Thats either 350 per kwhr or 428.

        Tesla wins on cost per energy. Winston comes out better on power, but surprisingly , not much.

        The Tesla C rate 0.35

        Balqon C rate 0.50.

        http://www.balqon.com/store-2/#!/ESS-48V-16kWhr/p/47184738/category=12269143

        • Jacob

          Saw their specs now. They use prismatic cells rather than bog standard 18650-sized cells.

          And according to my calculations, 8225 / (16 x .8 x 3500 x .96) = 0.19, the cost of storing electrons in them is $0.19/kwh.

          • eveee

            Yes. Balqon is wonderfully low. The only mfr that I know makes 18650 LiFe is A123. There might be others. Don’t think you can beat Balqon, though. Balqon is a good alternative if you can’t get PowerWall.
            its a little harder to get support, but the product offering is pretty good.
            Only problem is that you need to use 24 or 48V. Thats better for cheap low voltage inverter, but a problem for interfacing with string tied solar which comes in at a higher voltage. You need a DC-DC there even if the string solar voltage is near the battery voltage to charge properly, so I don’t think you come out ahead in the end unless you happen to have an old style solar and inverter setup.
            If you are starting fresh, you don’t want to do that.
            The way things are done now, there is always an MPPT. I like the solar edge approach with one MPPT optimizer per module. These are just high efficiency (99%) DC-DCs that combine the output of all the modules without losing any efficiency to shading or bad modules. No problem with series strings like christmas lights.
            I don’t like Enphase approach with a micro inverter on the roof. That distributes the inverter and all, not just the optimizer. Then you have to distribute storage, too. And thats on the roof, too. Not a good idea, IMO.

          • eveee

            Which metric are you using? First cost or operational lifetime cost?
            I don’t know where you get that multiplier, but it says clearly,
            16kwhr. 8225/16 = 514 according to my calculator.
            Looks like you are calculating operational lifetime cost. Its unfortunate that the same units describe both because it causes confusion.
            Judging from the 3500 in your denominator, that looks like cycle life.
            Since there is a 16, that sounds like 16 kwhr, the initial capacity.
            The .96 is a two way efficiency and the 0.8 is the degradation over lifetime.
            Sounds about right.
            The PowerWall is warranted for 10 years, about the cycle life you used. I think both the PowerWall and Balqon can do more cycles than that and more than the warranty.
            The 19c doesn’t include the time value of money since an energy payback in the future is worth less than today.
            That analysis gives you the true present value. Since the BAU utility rate will increase, the interest rate kind of washes on a comparative basis.
            The inflation rate of FF based electric sources is often overlooked in comparative analysis. When you throw it in, you can do the calculation just like you did and just come up with the 19c.
            I think its more like 12c for PowerWall.

          • Jacob

            16kwh x 0.8 (the depth of discharge) x .96 (efficiency) x cycles.

          • eveee

            Yes. Got it. Tentatively, lets call 16khwr the energy capacity and about $500/kwhr the energy capacity cost or capacity cost. We can call the daily usage the operational cost or lifetime cost per kwhr, if you like. If you know some better way of ending the confusion, by some standard namings, by all means suggest.
            So your calculations are correct, without interest.

          • Jacob

            I call it the cost of storing electrons – LCOS. As opposed to LCOE from solar panels.

            Interestingly if the depth of discharge is only 50%, it gives a longer cycle life. 7000 cycles.

            And the economics work out better, the LCOS is lower with a 50% DoD rather than 70-80% DoD.

  • newnodm

    With hindsight we can now understand that battery storage was inevitable. So it’s not surprising that some people focused on an electric car would have come to that conclusion eight years ago.
    Considering wonderful drop in RE generated electricity prices, I expect Musk feels that Tesla Energy is actually late in ramping up production. Both in building out the battery factory as well as Solarcity building out its thin film production capability.
    The next two years will be unnerving for Tesla and its investors. From my point of view, Musk is “playing his hand” very well.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the value added software Tesla will eventually add on the storage side. At some point the numbers will work for installed Powerwalls to become a virtual power plant. In some places it may be economic for Tesla Energy to sell it’s residential power as a block on behalf of it’s powerwall clients. This approach would supply power as needed by the utility. Rather than using retail pricing signals to affect behavior, this approach would allow the highest value use of stored solar.
    In some places this approach might allow residential solar customers to profitably make and store much more solar than they use in their home.
    I’m sure that Tesla Energy is looking at all kinds of scenarios that seem pretty far out today. Once home solar has storage and is networked, there are a vast number of software driven scenarios.

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